"And what exactly is my role in this?" Aileen warily eyed the clearing.
Gawain Robards, head of the Auror division, glanced sideways at her. She couldn't properly read his expression; no matter the time of day, the Forbidden Forest was always dark. But it seemed especially so just before dawn. "Liaison," he stated.
"Yes, I know that -" Aileen smothered a sigh. Maybe it was that she'd been dragged from her warm bed far too early this morning. Maybe it was juggling an emergency fire call as well as a sudden phone call from Bert. Maybe it was because I didn't have a chance to get any coffee before I had to Apparate here. "But what, specifically, do you need me for? I mean, an investigation of this-" and she wasn't going to look at the Dark Mark, still glowing brightly in the sky, "- nature isn't exactly my area of expertise."
Maybe it was because of the nature of the fire call. 'Emergency – Forbidden Forest - Williamson is dead - Anyone in the area, please respond!' And since she technically worked with the Aurors, she'd had to. Rudimentary training is not enough for this! Thank Merlin she'd arrived to find the professionals already had the situation well in hand. She'd been able to stop shaking, at least; but when she'd tried to go home – well.
Robards grimaced. Oh, that is not an expression I want to see on his face . . . She didn't know the man, but she knew his reputation. Tougher than nails, experienced, intelligent. Few in the Wizarding world wanted to go up against him; fewer who tried got away with it. All in all, I'm very glad he's on our side.
"There's an indication that some of the victims were killed non-traditionally," he said evasively.
I didn't get anywhere near enough sleep for this. What came out of her mouth was, "Huh?"
She'd been poking into some of Gram Macready's old things, a diary specifically, to try to find out more about the mansion, and the academic who'd lived there. Anything that might give her clues as to why Pevensie was there. And she'd only gotten to bed five scant hours before being rudely hauled from it.
" – the Killing Curse," he was saying.
She gave him her politest I'm-confused look, and hoped that he decided to repeat himself.
"Williamson was doing an emergency search and recapture after a call came in from Hogsmeade about a loose Dementor."
She followed the older Auror around the glimmer of magic cordoning off a small clearing. There were several moving forms, and just as many still ones, beyond it. Aileen focused in on Robard's back. "Dementors? In the Forest?"
She could practically hear the scowl in his voice. "Minister Fudge was doing an inspection of Hogwarts at the beginning of June," he said neutrally. "At the time, it was believed that Sirius Black was going to be headed for the area. The Minister insisted upon a protective escort of Dementors, given that nothing else was likely to stop an attack on his person." They reached a hollow between two trees; Aileen's feet stuttered to a stop.
She registered wide brown eyes in a face slack with death. The skin was a sickening gray-white; and from the dead Auror's expression, he had seen it coming. She shuddered.
"The Minister signed custody of twelve Dementors," Robard grunted, maneuvering carefully around the body, eyes sharp. "And returned with ten."
Aileen hadn't thought she could get any colder. "And they're in the Forbidden Forest."
Robard nodded, rising from his crouch at the dead man's side. "It's more than likely, yes." He frowned down at still features, and then turned to face her. She was taken aback by the leashed anger in his stance.
"But this isn't the Kiss," she offered, turning her attention back to the body. Anything, to not see the vitriolic sorrow hanging about the head of the Aurors.
"No," the man replied after a long, silent moment. "Williamson was a victim of the Killing Curse. And there are four dead Death Eaters, three with sword wounds through their hearts."
Aileen stared, tripping over a root in her shock. "What?" Strong fingers found her elbow, steadying her.
"That's why we need your help," Robard said bluntly, guiding her toward the magic cordon. Green eyes widened. I really don't want to do this. But he pushed her neatly through the barrier, and she entered into a scene of categorized chaos.
Three bodies – and – mediwitch examiners, and Aurors.
"He's missing his heart, Gawain!" called one of the mediwitches.
Merlin, I'm going to be sick.
The man at her side nodded. "Bag them, and transfer to the Ministry morgue after you've finished the preliminary notes. Cause of death?"
This time, a young man answered. "Gee, Gawain, I don't know. It might be the massive sword wound through his chest, but I'm afraid I'm not completely sure – I might be missing something -"
The other man snickered.
Steady on, Aileen thought, amused by the macabre sarcasm in spite of herself. Nonetheless, green eyes remained firmly focused elsewhere. And there was much to see; one Auror was moving through the clearing, tagging and bagging evidence. Yet another had a camera, and was following paths of multicolored, glowing footprints.
"Each distinct footprint is tagged with a different color," Robards explained, noting her interest. "When the spell activates, it travels through a specific area identifying whole and partial footprints from the initial template, which is indicated by the caster."
"Mr. Robards," Aileen managed to remain polite, even though she wanted nothing more than to curl up in her bed, pull the blankets over her head, and not move for about a week. "This is all very interesting, but I'm not sure what -"
"You answered the distress call?"
Off-balance, she glared at him. "Of course."
"Let me explain why we need your skills," Robard sighed. He glanced up, just for a moment; Aileen refused to follow his gaze. She knew what she would see. The Dark Mark. When he spoke again, his voice was much lower. "There has been a rash of Death Eater activities in the past month, ever since Peter Pettigrew was locked in Azkaban. I'm sure you're familiar with the attack on Professor McGonagall. My sources have been bandying about a few rumors that appear to be more resilient than the norm."
She frowned at him.
"Frankly," he sighed, "Some pieces of the lower end of our world think that You-Know-Who has returned."
Aileen stared. He can't be serious!
"I don't think he has," Robard said firmly. Probably saw me panicking, Aileen thought, a little calmer. "But every so often an imitator comes along, proclaiming to be the Dark Lord returned, and tries to muster up support. Things like this -" he gestured around the clearing, "- start to happen.
"Only this time, I think we have something different on our hands."
Aileen stared at him, as evenly as if she were giving an interrogation. "And I can help how?"
"The evidence indicates that whoever this person is, he uses Muggle methods of killing, not just magic. And that Death Eaters are turning up dead?" Robards shrugged. "A Dark Lord wannabe, punishing the unfaithful. And then," he pointed to a set of footprints leading out and away. Aileen's breath caught. "Disappearing, not Disapparating. We don't know for certain, but we think . . . he's hiding among the Muggles."
"Stop squirming," Lucy ordered, dabbing at his head once more with the wet cloth. "You really should have stitches in this," she fussed.
Peter ignored that; turned his attention instead to the brother he was still scolding. "You attacked Malfoy. Without a weapon?" He was going to strangle his brother. Slowly.
"I lost my sword," Ed shrugged. "But I still had my shield."
And ripping the edge across Lucius Malfoy's face was the only thing you could think to do? Peter sighed. "He'll hate you for that, Ed."
Edmund snorted. "I have no fear of him. He doesn't even know who I am."
"Unless he sees you at Hogwarts," Peter pointed out tightly, shifting away from Lucy's probing fingers. Doesn't he see the danger? "He is one of the school governors."
Edmund shrugged. Peter glared.
"You can't protect us from everything, Peter," the dark-haired man said softly. Peter frowned. His brother knew him entirely too well.
"I can try," he muttered.
Lucy sighed, winding the bandage around his head. "Keep it dry," she ordered absently. "You have a concussion; you're calling in sick to work."
No use arguing with that tone. "Yes, Mum," he teased.
Lucy rolled her eyes, and shared a speaking glance with Edmund. A knock on the door interrupted whatever his brother was about to say. Susan poked her head in, and gave them a wan smile.
"Can I talk with you, Peter?"
Lucy and Edmund didn't even bother with excuses, slipping out of the room as their sister slid inside.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly, just as he began to shift uncomfortably. "For what I said the other day. I didn't know -"
"And that's the problem, Susan." Gently, gently. But he still cut her off, and held up a hand when she stepped forward. He eyed her hands, wringing together anxiously. "A lot has happened in the past twenty years. You haven't been here for it – and you don't know how it has changed us. And we have changed." He grinned. "For what it's worth, so have you." And in a good way.
Susan managed a smile at that. "I guess we all have." She took a deep breath. "But I want to try again. And -" she met his gaze squarely. "I wanted to let you know – I'm not going anywhere."
He blinked, wondering if he'd hit his head harder than he thought. She wasn't making any sense. Or she's making too much sense. "Su?"
She glanced at him. "I see how you act. You, and Edmund, and Lucy. Like you're not sure I'm here. You're afraid to say what you really think. Because you think that I won't like it. And I'll leave."
Susan usually wasn't perceptive; people didn't make sense to her the way books did. Change, Peter reminded himself. But even so. . . "Won't you?"
She shook her head, determined in a way he'd rarely seen from her before. "No. I want my family back just as much as you do."
More, he knew with sudden insight. Because you've been alone so long. "Alright," he said quietly. "No more secrets. No more hiding."
"And a bit more understanding," she offered, her smile as tentative as his.
Peter nodded, rubbing a hand through his hair. Fingers encountered a bandage, and pulled back. Not perfect, but it's a start. And in that case, there was no putting it off any longer. "We need to talk to you," he said seriously. "Ed, Lu and I. About where we were all last year; but more importantly, why."
"Why?" Blue eyes, so like his own, were concernedly curious.
Peter nodded, taking a deep breath. "It's important. And I know you don't remember most of it. It – will be hard to hear."
"Alright," Susan nodded. He could see her trying to stay calm, though her fingers clenched on the table edge. "Let's go find Ed and Lucy, then."
"I swear to you, I didn't know." Severus knew his face was pale; and he couldn't roll his sleeve over the Mark burning on his forearm. He hadn't known. Until the summons.
Then, he'd seen something that he'd prayed to never see again. Voldemort, embodied once more and vengeful with it.
Albus sighed, weariness leaking through just a bit. "I know, Severus." The old man tugged absently at his beard. "Who orchestrated the ritual?"
Snape curled a derisive lip. "Lucius Malfoy." He might have known the older man briefly during school, but the only thing he could trust about him was that Lucius was utterly untrustworthy. That, and blood will always win out. A half-blood in Slytherin? His first three years at Hogwarts had been pure hell, and not because of Potter and his trio of pranking friends.
Dumbledore nodded, slowly. "I see."
"Apparently, Lucius stumbled across an Auror in the Forest, and killed him before starting the ceremony. He sent a team of Death Eaters – twelve, total, to capture Sirius Black to represent the enemy." Severus shrugged; Dumbledore was intent upon him, gathering all the information he could. "The protections you put upon Potter were sufficient enough to deter him. The Dark Lord was . . . displeased." I haven't seen anyone suffer that long under the Cruciatus without going mad. But then again, Voldemort had always known exactly what he was about. Couldn't happen to a nicer wizard, Severus thought with no little satisfaction.
"Apparently, Jugson, Wilkes and Yaxley were killed immediately. Rammesy and Legarde were reported dead by Macnair. Travers was captured, and led a group back to the clearing. Where they weren't in time to stop the ceremony, but managed to rescue Black. And wreak bloody havoc." He raised a black brow. "I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of Lupin."
The other professor was powerful and intelligent, despite being a werewolf; having him as an enemy was something Snape hadn't considered before, but was worried about now. Though the quality of his friends had ensured it during their school days. He would never like Sirius Black; but Severus had enough guilt on his soul to know what the man must feel now. To have been a vessel, even unwilling, that returned the evil which had killed his best friends to life –
I will not pity him. He didn't even want to understand Black. So he changed the subject.
"And last night was an eclipse of the moon." Dumbledore reached for a lemon drop, thoughtfully popped it into his mouth. "Go on."
Time to go on the offensive. I want to know what you haven't told me. Oh, Dumbledore was well aware of his precarious position as a spy. Knew that he was, as a rule, as incurious as humanly possible. Knowing too much would get others killed. But this – he needed to know why Lucius Malfoy was so ragingly furious at a group of Muggles. And it wasn't the scar slashing across his cheek; a mark their Lord had decreed that he would bear without healing, as punishment for his failure to secure Harry Potter and for allowing them to be tracked. "Why were you hiding the Pevensies here last year?"
The man didn't so much as flinch. Damn. "That is not my secret to tell, Severus." So I was right. A bushy white brow raised in implication; Snape was grateful now for years of spying that meant he'd lost the ability to blush. "But if you speak with them, I'm sure they would consider enlightening you." The white head of hair tilted. "Why?"
Severus shrugged, still casual as he considered the advice. Dumbledore truly cared about the Wizarding world's survival, and those of the Order with whom he worked closely. And there were few wizards in the world who had earned Snape's trust. "I've never seen Lucius so wholly furious with anyone. Nor with such. . . . lasting anger." He stared at the other man seriously. "If Malfoy gets anywhere near Pevensie, one of them will die."
"And you're not certain it would be Pevensie?"
Snape shrugged. I can hope. "If he got close enough to scar Lucius and lived – the odds are close to even."
Dumbledore nodded, slowly. The silence was filled with the noise of the Headmaster sucking on the lemon drop. "It seems that our reprieve is over," the older man sighed at last. Twinkling blue eyes found his, and Snape felt a chill creep over him. There could only be one thing that he could do, now that the war had begun again.
"We need all the information we can get, Severus," Dumbledore said quietly. "Would you be willing to act as a double agent once more?"
Do I have a choice? He was alive – and had responded to the summons. But to at least have the semblance of a decision laid in front of him. . . Thank you for that, Albus. It was little enough, but it made a difference. "Yes," he said bleakly. "I'll do it."
"How are you feeling?"
Remus and Harry were waiting in the doorway; Sirius smiled a little. "Good as new." If not for knowing that – He glanced at the bandaged arm. "Not even a scar." But I've been marked. It won't go away. He accepted the knowledge as he had every other evil thing in his life, and then put it away.
Remus shot him a look that said the little lie hadn't been believed in the slightest, but Harry smiled at him in relief. Worth it. Though he'd have to talk to Moony later, no doubt.
"When are they releasing you?"
Sirius grinned as his godson perched on the edge of the high hospital bed. "The nurse just went to get the papers now. I'll be ready to go in a few minutes."
Remus grinned, and nudged Harry. "They probably can't wait to get rid of him. He's housetrained something awful."
James' son grinned; Sirius glowered.
"You're one to be throwing stones, Moony," he replied archly, highly offended. The attitude broke when Remus poked him in the side. "Hey!"
Sirius paled when he stood, but he waved them grumpily away. "I can get dressed without help," he protested. Blood loss, still, Remus judged. Magic could do many things – but Sirius had bled quite a lot before he'd gotten help. And healed or no, it would take time before his body replaced what had been lost.
Lucius Malfoy was a vindictive bastard. The cut he'd made had been deep, but not quite a suicide-slash. It had ensured that Sirius was still alive when he'd arrived at the clearing; but if they hadn't shown up, there was no telling what he would have done. Remus stilled the wolf's rage that rose up in him, wanting nothing more than to rend and tear bloody scraps of flesh from the bones of one who had dared to harm his pack –
Sirius pulled the curtain back, fully dressed in the Muggle clothes every wizard wore under their robes. The robes themselves were draped over his good arm. Sirius had also managed to wriggle back into the sling the nursing staff had insisted he wear.
"Ready to go?" he managed.
Not fooled, Sirius gripped his arm. "It's alright, Moony," he said softly. "I'm still here."
"Are you alright?"
Sirius was white to the lips, and sweating. "Fine," he smiled. "Little tired, that's all."
They'd had to take the Knight Bus out to the Mansion; Sirius could Apparate, though the stringent medical advice was not to, but Harry couldn't. So it had been a jerky, haphazard ride back to the Pevensies'.
"Right," Remus snorted. "That's what you told Madam Pomfrey after that match against Slytherin in fifth year. The one where the bludger managed to crack that thick block you call a skull?"
Sirius grinned at him. "I don't remember that."
Remus rolled his eyes. "You had a concussion. And amnesia."
Sirius shrugged, trying for nonchalant. "Still don't remember. Sorry, Moony."
Harry held back a laugh with difficulty. As they walked into the Mansion, he winced to see the evidence of the previous night's battle. Oh, the bodies were gone, and the blood, but there were scorch marks and places where the marble floor was crushed to powder.
For all the destruction in the entranceway, however, the rest of the house was eerily untouched. Kinda creepy. Especially because he knew, appearances notwithstanding, that Death Eaters had gotten this far. They were . . . everywhere. It gave him the shivers.
"Hold up," Sirius said, quiet and intense. Injured or not, he was still an Auror – and it showed. "Check for any stray presents our friends might have left."
Harry frowned. "Presents?"
"Lingering spells," Remus muttered, whispering an incantation that Harry didn't quite catch. "Booby traps?"
"Ah." Sirius cast another spell, and a section of the wall flared sickly black, before dying. "This side's clear. I caught two. Moony?"
"One," Remus answered, grimly pushing the door to Sirius' room open. "I ought to check the rest of the Mansion. Just in case."
"I'll help -"
Harry and Remus pushed him back on the bed, moving as one. "You'll rest," the other Marauder corrected.
Lupin glared. Harry watched in interest as a silent battle of wills took place. One that Remus seemed to be winning.
After a moment of useless glaring, Sirius laid back, and sighed. "Fine. Four hours -"
Remus' eyes narrowed. "Ten."
Sirius balked, hands up in surrender. "Eight," he laughed. "You win, Remus. And then we'll clear out everything the Death Eaters left." His gaze included the fourteen-year-old anxiously watching them both. "All of us."
Harry grinned. "Together."
The murmurs grew intelligible as he snuck two careful steps forward, any thought of intention blanked from his mind. There were few shadows for him to hide in, so he pressed close to the wall. Instead of the new spell he was trying, Draco focused on the smooth silk of wood grain under sensitive fingers.
"- by a Muggle?!" Mother, aghast and upset. For all her demure meekness in polite society, Narcissa had a core of steel. And among those who knew her, she never hesitated to show it.
"Regardless," and he could almost see the careless wave, "It will heal." The scar.
They could only be talking about the slashing scar on Father's cheek. Draco shivered. He'd tried to warn Edmund in time, when the Death Eaters had arrived at Malfoy Manor the other night – but the spells to conceal the owl to all but the letter's recipient had taken precious time. But if the owl had been seen, or worse, intercepted –
"And now that our Lord has returned?" Mother, again. But there was something different in her voice. For all her own will, Mother and Father rarely disagreed. Not where I can see them, at least.
"I am his right hand. I intend to introduce Draco to him."
He couldn't breathe.
"I wouldn't." Mother, now getting to her feet and advancing toward the desk. This new spell worked remarkably well; it had been worth the time and effort to get it right. "Unless you intend to bring to his own heir to his attention."
Fingers pressed deeply into mahogany paneling. What?
"What?" Lucius sounded as shocked as Draco felt.
Disgust and fury in Mother's voice – a dangerous combination. "Lord Voldemort has an heir. Or should I say, had."
A gasping breath. Draco wished he could do as much.
"You cannot possibly mean -"
"I told you that your haste would mean your downfall," Mother sneered.
"You never told me the boy's father, no matter how I pressed you!" He had never heard his father sound so panicked before. "Had I known Nothos' true heritage -"
And he was running, gone – heedless of the spell that dissolved in his wake, heedless of anything but the rush of blood in his ears. He didn't let himself vomit until he had reached the concealing shrubbery outside the kitchen door.
He couldn't process – couldn't think. Nothos, his beloved brother, heir to the very monster whose ideals had killed him? He'd known Nothos wasn't pureblood, but that meant –
Draco loosed a bitter laugh, kicking mulch over the mess he'd made. So Voldemort, champion of pure breeding, heir to Salazar Slytherin, was a half-blood? The irony was enough to make him ill.
But now that his thoughts collected themselves. . . he could see it. He'd always thought Nothos' dark hair came from Mother's side of the family. After all, Narcissa Black had been the palest of her sisters, though her aristocratic features were a shadowy echo of the pictures he'd seen of her cousin, Sirius Black. Those had been in history textbooks – the blood traitor was never mentioned by his family.
He supposed he must be by now. Spying on his family, giving information to the 'enemy' – he couldn't even use the word Mudblood now. He'd tried. But every time his mouth formed the first syllable he'd see his brother's face, fuzzy with the age of the memory, and stop. But more than that – I will see Voldemort dead.
He let the fury have free reign of his body for just a moment, cementing into hatred. That, he could pack away, and hide. There was safety in the fact that he was beneath his family's notice until he finished school. When he reached legal majority however, that protection would be gone.
Overlooked. Underestimated. Always.
And he would use it.
After all, Mother hadn't been protecting him when she'd kept Father from presenting him to Voldemort. What she'd been covering for, he didn't know – but as mother of Voldemort's heir, she wanted to survive as much as any of those in his circle. And she would probably be accorded a certain amount of power – though not as much as if Nothos had survived.
Draco shivered, suddenly awfully glad his brother was dead. He hated himself for it a moment later, but – it means he won't die at Voldemort's hand. That I won't have to see him tortured to death in front of me. Because Nothos would never have agreed with his sire. And it would have killed him.
He needed to get back inside. He'd learned well from his father; they wouldn't have heard him fleeing, or even known that the spell surrounding them had been abruptly cut off. But if he didn't get back inside soon, and they discovered what he'd been up to -
I won't live long enough to get back to Hogwarts.
And it was less than a month away. Not so long, compared to what he'd already endured. I can make it. And once he was there – the best-laid plans often went to hell. He would not lose this; the potion was complex, the spell even more so. He would practice. He would succeed.
I have to.
He'd forgotten the sweetness of food. Real food, not just the vermin he'd captured among the tree-roots of the Forest. Ahhhh. He stretched, luxuriously. Some things were unlike any other in the world. Flesh was one of them. So many people didn't appreciate the pounding of blood in their veins; couldn't feel the cadence of a pumping heart, or the swish of air in filled lungs.
He reveled in it all.
And now – he had been planning, those years exiled in bodies not his own. Thinking of what he must do, what he must learn, when he was restored to himself once more. First, he would –
No. Before even that, he needed information. He needed to know the state of the Wizarding world, to know its strengths and weaknesses, to know where to strike.
Nails bit into the skin of his palms – and it was a tiny, human pain that he relished. More familiar to him was the rasp of scales, the pull of sinuous muscle. And so he welcomed now even the pitfalls of humanity.
I will not be vulnerable for long.
The Potions Master would see to that. Severus Snape was a useful servant indeed – the only thing that kept him from killing the man, double-agent or no. Snape was far too intelligent at times. But for now, Voldemort controlled him.
His plans were beginning – but he would have to alter them, to take into account those two Muggles who were so impervious to his magic. He would know what made them so. And he would take that power for his own.
And then . . .
He would have the future.
He would have the world.
A/N: Well, that's it for now. Be on the lookout for more in this universe, I haven't stopped by any means, I'm just catching my breath for a short bit. And if anyone has any ideas what I could call this world. . . typing in sequel to 'etc' is going to get old, fast. . .:) I welcome suggestions!
A shoutout now to everyone who's reviewed and encouraged me in this, especially trecebo and Dawnlight!